Monday, August 31, 2015

Ten years after Katrina

When I first heard about Katrina, I was too immature to understand. Instead of thinking about the billions and billions and billions of dollars it would take for the city to recover or how some parts could never be the same at all, I thought that maybe New Orleans could be like the next Atlantis, and even though all of this sucked, that would be pretty cool. Don’t judge. I was six. 

But even ten years later, I still can’t pretend to comprehend how long and painful the journey to recovery for New Orleans was. It did not help that New Orleans pre-hurricane already suffered from high rates of poverty and crime. Today, while the city is definitely on the road to recovery, it’s not quite there yet. Reflecting back on the natural disaster’s 10th anniversary, some think that disaster relief hurt the people it was supposed to help the most, and point out that there is disparity between some regions, that affluence and recovery fall along racial lines. 

(I like this article. It's informative and interesting and also has nice pictures.) 

Fast forward seven years later, and Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in November. This time, FEMA was more prepared to address the natural disaster, bracing itself for the storm before it even hit. Obama’s approval ratings shot up after Sandy…which happened, lucky for him, right before the 2012 election. 

The Constitution does not address how the government should handle things like natural disasters, which are incredibly costly to manage. To me, especially because of what I can see in the difference between how Katrina and Sandy were handled, the answer seems obvious. The government is there to provide help in times of crisis, is it not? And while there is an argument to be made that the government should step out in times of recession because the economy may bounce back by itself in times of stress, I cannot see one that excuses government inefficiency and hesitance to respond during a natural disaster. To me, while this is not a power explicitly enumerated in the Constitution, I see it as an extension of the government's duty to protect the security of the nation. 

What are your thoughts on the role of government in responding to natural disasters? Please provide a constitutional basis. 


Jack Loar said...

I agree with you Emily that the federal government should step in during disasters, even if the Constitution does not explicitly grant that power. However, Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to "provide for ... the general welfare of the United States," and I think that disaster relief falls under that power. This blog post does a good job of explaining the history of interpreting the Constitution for disaster relief.

Expanding on what you said about Sandy, I think that the federal government was only able to respond so well was because of Katrina. After Katrina, people realized that FEMA was not equipped to deal with such a large disaster quickly, so Congress passed the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act which reorganized FEMA allowing for faster response times. I think that the government was only able to deal with Sandy so well because this reform restructured the organization of FEMA.

Nick Jadallah said...

I think governmental responses to natural disasters is going to become a more prevalent issue in the near future. I don't want to bring this away from politics too much, but in regard to this particular topic, it is important to recognize the effects that climate change will have on natural disasters. To what extent these climate changes will have on natural disasters, no one is 100% sure, but it is generally accepted in the scientific world that both the gradual warming of the earth and the thermal expansion of the oceans will bring about more extreme versions of current weather phenomena. For example, more severe rain storms are to be expected, as well as more severe flooding, especially in coastal areas. Also, heat waves are expected to worsen, as well as the longevity and asperity of droughts (e.g California). To get to the point, we can expect some harsher weather conditions, and natural disasters may become more frequent, which is why this issue is not isolated to Katrina, but rather is something that the government should be paying more attention to for the future. It should be the responsibility of the government, both on the national level and the state level, not only respond to disasters, but to prepare for them as well. It is essential that they work together, especially in areas of high risk, like in the case of New Orleans. The United States is a large country with substantial geographical diversity. Because of this, states should probably have a big role in preparing for natural disasters because each geographical area in the US will experience different types of disasters; states should focus their preparation on the specific disasters they are most likely to encounter due to their geography and climate. The national government is important because, like you mentioned, FEMA is a vital lifeline that the federal government can extend to states that are in need of assistance. The federal government is also able to provide important research and funding useful in the study of future natural disasters. In terms of a "constitutional basis", I would argue that researching, educating, preparing, and responding to natural disasters ultimately falls under the responsibility of the federal government. In article 8, the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to "provide for the common Defense and General Welfare of the United States". If the federal government were to be inactive or inefficient on the issue of natural disaster preparation or response to the detriment of "The People", their actions could be considered unconstitutional because they would not be providing for the general welfare of the people the are supposed to protect. Good article.

Monica Mai said...

I agree with you that it is the government's duty to protects its people. The particular role of the government in natural disasters is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, but the Constitution was written to ensure the liberty and wellbeing of the people. In the preamble of the Constitution, it calls for the government to "...provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare..." The constitution was deliberately written to be vague so that future governments can interpret it it as they see fit for their generation. Just because it does not clearly say that the constitution must provide for its people in times of natural disaster, does not mean that the government does not have that duty. I definitely agree with you on that the government is supposed to be there to help in times of crisis. Katrina set an example as to how inefficiently the government responded in this time of crisis which led to FEMA as you and Jack and Nick mentioned. That is a great thing, and I think that a lot of the government's financial strain is lessened by humanitarian organizations such as Red Cross. The states must also be able to provide for the victims in times of natural diasaster, which means the states exposed to a higher chance of natural disasters must have relief programs set up to minimize the damage on the people. In regards to the income disparity, that is not just a problem caused solely by Hurricane Katrina. This is a very prevalent and serious problem all across America, and the government has not done enough to address this problem. So, while those issues are not dependent, it is still important to consider the different effects of natural disasters on people of color as opposed to wealthier, predominately white upper class. Thank you for sharing the article. I just realized I've never once bothered to look at the after effects of New Orleans after this very devastating hurricane. The pictures were also very enjoyable.

Emily Shen said...

Nick – given, as you described, the high frequency and variety of natural disasters in the United States, how should the government choose to allocate its money? Are there some kinds of natural disasters that are more deserving of government assistance than others? Does California's drought count itself among them?

Nick Jadallah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Jadallah said...

Well, to be honest, I think it is important for the government to spread the money out a little bit. Funding research now can better prepare local, state, and federal governmental agencies to better prepare and equip themselves for any natural disaster, which minimizes risk. If risk is minimized, then damage control later on will become more efficient and less costly. That said, it is also important to have sufficient funds set aside for FEMA to use whenever a disaster strikes. They should have authority to dip in to their funds and mobilize personnel as soon as disaster strikes-- time matters. In terms of which disasters are the worst, it depends on the location and magnitude of the disaster. I would not go as far to say, for example, that a category 4 hurricane is worse than a 8.4 earthquake. It all depends. Your question about the drought is a really good one. I would not call it a natural disaster myself, mostly because it cannot be compared to something like Katrina or Sandy. Economically, it has had negative effects on farmers. Many farmers are forced to leave large chunks of their land fallow to save water, which in turn reduces the amount on profit they make on a crop. However, some counties have been declared "natural disaster areas" due to the drought.It is not so severe that people's lives are immediately in peril.
check this out if you want: